Haiti Is Environmental
99% Of Tree Cover Has Been Felled

By Geoffrey Lean
Environment Editor
The Independent - UK
As filmgoers flock to a much-hyped environmental disaster movie, a real-life catastrophe, caused by our treatment of the natural world, is being largely ignored.
The film is entitled The Day After Tomorrow, but the actual disaster is happening in Haiti today. While director Roland Emmerich depicts a catastrophe that tests the laws of physics, the floods in the Caribbean country are all too easily explained.
Haiti has become one of the most devastated places on earth. Its once thick forests have been felled, and the rains rush off the bare hillsides, carrying precious topsoil with them. As crop yields fall and farming becomes impossible, the impoverished people flood to city slums.
Levels of hunger and infant mortality are among the highest in the world; life expectancy and access to clean drinking water and sanitation among the lowest.
It was not always like this. Christopher Columbus said he had "never beheld so fair a thing" as Haiti's forests; he called the island "fertile and beautiful" and "most suitable for planting of crops and for raising cattle of all kinds".
In the 18th century it was one of the richest colonies in the French empire, producing 40 per cent of all the sugar and 60 per cent of all the coffee consumed throughout Europe.
Now both the forests and the wealth are a distant memory. Environmental destruction has made Haiti the poorest country in the western hemisphere: 99 per cent of Haiti's tree cover has been felled and two-thirds of its farmland has been destroyed, while its population has quadrupled.
The soil fills up river beds, making them prone to flood, while some 400 small rivers and streams have silted up altogether over the past 20 years. Floods and landslides have become commonplace. At the same time, the country's once abundant water supplies have dried up, as rainwater races off the land with no trees to help it seep into the ground.
Most tellingly, life expectancy is lower than in Sudan, deaths in childbirth 1,400 times higher than in nearby Grenada.
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd



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